Transparency emerged as one of the top trends in 2021, as more and more consumers become increasingly concerned about the composition of the foods, they get off supermarket shelves.

A survey by Nielsen in 2018 showed that 67% of the consumers want to know everything that goes into the food they buy. Since the pandemic, consumers are spending more money on their meals at home and are more conscious about the origin of the ingredients, how healthy the food is and its ecological footprint.

An Innova Consumer Survey also indicates that 85 percent of consumers globally say information on what is in their food is of major importance to them. Similarly, 59 percent want to know where their food comes from and how it is made.

Interest in transparency was found to be highest in emerging markets, most likely because transparency is already more advanced in developed countries. Access to information through social media and online is increasing in emerging markets, further driving demand for transparency. The COVID-19 crisis also appears to have intensified consumer interest in transparency and responsible production, and this is likely to persist going forward. Throughout the pandemic, consumers have retained an affinity with brands that can build trust, provide authentic and credible products and create shopper confidence in the current and post-COVID climate.

Clean label expands its scope

As demand for transparency continues to grow, consumers have attached great importance to clean label claims which is also evolving to encompass areas beyond the product itself into the ethical and environmental factors surrounding production.

“We see claims related to human and animal welfare and increased focus on supply chain transparency and plant-powered nutrition as well as sustainable sourcing,” details Innova.

Additionally, there has been a shift in focus from claims covering health aspects such as natural, organic, additive-free and nothing artificial, into areas such as GMO-free and minimally processed. The industry is also seeing more interest in real and recognizable, shorter ingredients lists as well as dairy and meat alternatives while fat, salt reduction remain important. Sugar content is also a factor, especially as the keto movement, which emphasizes reducing carbohydrates, continues to grow.

The expectation that food labels should provide greater transparency around the product lifecycle is also driving demand for greater clarity on what goes into food, the essence of clean label, and prompting consumers to seek more information about where ingredients come from. This is driving interest in locally sourced ingredients as consumers are keen on the country of origin on food and drink labels.

Today’s consumers do their research before purchasing products and many look for those with ingredients that sound natural and are sourced ethically. Brands that are able to offer fewer or more naturally sounding ingredients, as opposed to chemical ones and are backed by eco-ethical sourcing transparency, are likely to perform well in this space with consumers.

The desire for sustainability and traceability is closely tied to the clean-label trend. Conscientious consumers are checking labels for ingredients that they perceive as closer to nature. ADM Outside Voice research finds 69% of consumers say simple, recognizable ingredients influence their purchasing decisions.

Other emerging trends in this space include knowing that ingredients are sustainably sourced and responsibly produced, perhaps with upcycling to help the planet. For manufacturers, this means becoming more transparent about the supply chain.

“Looking ahead, climate neutral schemes could make a bigger impact, while a new logo for upcycled foods is also likely to bring the idea of tackling food waste to the fore,” says Lu Ann Williams, global insights director at Innova Market Insights.

In research among European consumers undertaken by ClimatePartner, half of respondents agreed that carbon emissions of a product are a factor in their purchasing decision, and 74 percent regard ClimatePartner’s own climate-neutral label as a decision-making aid when shopping. Forty percent also recognized the label as an indication that the company responsible for the product is undertaking broader activities to combat their climate impact.

Ingredion’s ATLAS study looked into the most important claims from food and beverage producers to North American consumers. The top-ranked claims (>79%) when purchasing a food or beverage product were, made with fresh ingredients, made only with recognizable ingredients and ‘natural. The next level of claims important to consumers (70%-79%) were no artificial ingredients/no preservative, naturally sourced, contains sustainable sourced ingredients and locally sourced ingredients. The next tier of claims that consumers valued included non-GMO, organic and no-additives.

Technology: a key enabler of transparency

The importance of technology in improving transparency cannot be emphasized enough. Blockchain technology continues to take this ambition further, functioning as an “immutable” supply chain record. The technology has aided suppliers in tracking expansive food chains, including individual animals in a livestock herd, rainforest-positive coffee and sandwich ingredients.

Crypto-labelling which is based on the blockchain uses a secure communication technology to create a record which traces the history of a specific food from farm to fork. This avails consistent records with no duplication, a certification registry, and easy traceability. On the consumer end, all that’s required is a smartphone to scan and read the crypto-labels which will enhance traceability.

According to the Innova research, 50 percent of consumers say that they are at least somewhat likely to check a QR code if it appears on a pack. The adoption of blockchain technology in the agricultural sector can help African countries “leapfrog” to the fourth industrial revolution.

Countries abroad continue to embrace the technology amidst the pandemic while in Africa, it’s still in the nascent stages of development.

50 percent of consumers say that they are at least somewhat likely to check a qr code if it appears ona pack. The adoption of blockchain technology in the agricultural sector can help African countries “leapfrog” to the fourth industrial revolution.



Food manufacturers in action

Food businesses are beginning to act on this consumer demand in a proactive manner.

To demonstrate how bakers can bring it all together, Cargill created its Sustainable Cookie Concept. Made with RSPO-certified palm oil, responsibly sourced chocolate chips, sustainably produced stevia, and traceable pea protein.

The cookie showcases Cargill’s sustainability capabilities across ingredients and supply chains, explains Gretchen Hadden, marketing communications manager, Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate North America.

Cargill is beginning to see an increased proliferation of baked goods infused with ingredients designed to give a nutritional boost

“Due to changing perceptions from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are now much more likely to pay attention to individual ingredients in their foods and beverages,” says Timo Nieraese, senior area sales manager at Lecico GmbH, Hamburg, Germany.

He points to the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2021 Food & Health Survey, in which 54% of the American adults surveyed said that it was important that the ingredients didn’t have ‘chemical-sounding’ names. And 31% of those surveyed said sustainability influences their food/beverage selection.

According to Westchester, Ill.-based Ingredion Incorporated’s proprietary 2020 ATLAS clean-label research, 80% of North American consumers read the ingredient list on the back of the package, as well as the claims and descriptors used on the front or side, says Ivan Gonzales, Director of Marketing, Dairy, U.S/Canada.

The rising interest in the environmental impact of food is also pushing demand for traceable ingredients higher.

Players in the coffee industry are responding to calls for greater transparency around the origins of their beans by teaming up with tech companies. Scientific traceability company, Oritain, has joined forces with importer and distributor Mercanta, The Coffee Hunters, to establish a global coffee database in order to add what it calls a “forensic” level of traceability to the world’s coffee.

Elsewhere, the Dutch retail giant HEMA said it will begin using the platform Farmer Connect to create greater transparency around its coffee range using blockchain technology, which is better known for underpinning cryptocurrency technology.

Food giant Unilever shows that even juggernauts can change direction, by opening up its Climate Transition Action plan process. Heineken is increasingly showcasing the sustainability journey of their ingredients, such as the apples used in their cider.

Europe’s leading food transparency blockchain, Connecting Food recently assisted Mondelez International to launch their first food transparency project in the United States, with the iconic cracker brand Triscuit. By scanning the QR code on the Triscuit box, consumers can discover the crackers’ entire journey from the farm to their home, via a web app using their smartphones.

Businesses like The Ethical Butcher provide QR codes on the meat they sell, which consumers can scan to get the story of the farm the meat came from and the people involved in its production.

With consumers increasingly looking for information about how their food is produced, fine food independents- high quality, luxury, or gourmet food businesses- are in a strong position to benefit from the demand for transparency and traceability, thanks to their short supply chains and their relationships with local producers.

In the age of transparency, smaller businesses are advantaged due to their shorter supply chains, local sourcing, and overall a smaller operation making it easier to be fully transparent about how their products are made, what they’re made out of, and how they’re kept safe on the way to store shelves.

Regulations on labelling

A couple of years ago, legislation was put in place in most countries regarding clear label information and food safety. Examples are FSMA in the US and Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) in the EU for food safety and recalls.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011. The FSMA has given the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) new authorities to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed.

From 1 October 2021, the requirements for prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food labelling changed in Wales, England, and Northern Ireland. Prepacked for direct sale or PPDS is food which is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers and is in this packaging before it is ordered or selected.

The Food Safety Agency (FSA) has introduced the requirement for full ingredient labelling with allergens information emphasized on PPDS -popularly known as ‘Natasha’s law’, following the death of teenager Natasha Ednan-Laperouse from an allergic reaction caused by a prepacked baguette which, at the time, did not require allergen labelling.

The new labelling will help protect consumers by providing potentially life-saving allergen information on the packaging. Businesses that produce PPDS food need to have accurate information from their suppliers in order to label their products correctly.

The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Office of Food Policy and Response (OFPR) released a list of draft and final guidance topics to be completed within the next 12 months. One of the documents that the Agency plans to issue is a draft guidance on the labeling of plant-based milks.

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) recently ordered bread manufacturers to disclose full information on the product shelf life and clearly specify the vitamins and minerals used in the claimed fortification of their products.

In India, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has stretched its labelling regime to restaurant chains operating in multiple states, obligating them to furnish consumers with information about food items displayed on their menus, like the calorific value, allergen details, nutritional information and health warnings. This includes e-commerce food business operators who are expected to publish the information on their portals. The provision encompassing restaurant chains has been incorporated into the newly enacted 2020 Food Safety and Standards labelling and display regulations.

Opportunity to impress

Brands are in a position to develop long-term relationships with current customers while also capturing market share from competition by offering complete product transparency. However, offering data at a granular level is often easier said than done for brands. Many companies do not possess information to this extent; or, if they do, they find it difficult to change the operational status quo.

“Consumer demand for traceability across the supply chain offers opportunities to differentiate products, improve transparency and freshness, and safeguard brand provenance. Traceability and transparency in the food industry are the foundations to building consumer trust and the Covid-19 virus impact on trade routes and supply chains has accentuated this even more,” a report by KPMG Australia states.

The solution for brands lies with third-party service providers that transform basic product information — such as the Nutrition Facts Panel and on package marketing claims — into smart attributes such as detailed nutrients and allergens. These attributes combine to create a profounder understanding of a product set and can be easily customized to meet any retailer, industry or government initiative. Once a brand transforms its data by breaking it down into its most basic elements, the ability to customize data sets is infinite.

Another central part of transparency is third party verification schemes which provide confidence that the claims contained in the packaging are verified and true. Consumers will remain loyal to brands that provide easy access to trustworthy product information.

This feature appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE